Blairsville, Georgia, is the largest town in Union County. It’s still a tiny town with the best part of its rural heritage remaining like friendly people, little traffic, wonderful fresh food at family owned restaurants. It’s recently become a tourist hub because It’s one of the most beautiful and scenic places in Georgia. Union County lies within Chattahoochee National Forest. The county is home to the two highest mountains in Georgia and a deep beautiful lake created in its only state park, Vogel. Is it any wonder visitors come to see its highest and lowest attractions?
Brasstown Bald is the highest mountain in Blairsville, Georgia, and Union County’s most popular attraction. It’s part of the National Park system. You can drive up the mountain to the parking lot where you can hike to the peak or pay three for a trolley ride. Unless you are a rugged hiker, pay the fare. It’s a steep climb.
From atop the observation tower, you can see four states. The museum at the peak tells the history of Georgia’s mountains and the National Park Service. The museum tells the Cherokee myth about why there are balds, which only exists in the Appalachian Mountains.
The Cherokee believed in the old days there was a monster atop the mountain that was killing their people. There were trees there then where the monster could hide. The Cherokee prayed to their god for help with the monster. Their god complied by causing the mountain to become a bald where no trees would ever grow. The people could then find and kill the predator.
There are many other exhibits, including an animated exhibit where the first forest ranger, Alan Woody, tells how he restocked the area with deer. Other exhibits show native wildlife and other exhibits related to the mountains.
Blood Mountain and Neel Gap
Blood Mountain is Georgia’s second highest peak. The Appalachian Trail crosses it. Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap perches on the side of Blood Mountain. Both Blood Mountain and Mountain Crossings, the outfitter/gift shop and hostel, have interesting pasts. The Cherokee say Blood Mountain earned its name from a famous battle they fought to get the land from the Creeks. The Battle they fought near here at Slaughter Gap on the mountain was so ferocious that the creeks ran red with blood, giving the mountain its name.
The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) rebuilt Mountain Crossing in the 1930s from an old logging structure as an inn and dining hall for workers building Vogel State Park. By the 1980s, the building was dilapidated and abandoned. Instead of tearing it down, they renovated it as Mountain Crossings.
Today, it is also called Walasi-Yi Interpretive Center and is a stop for hikers on the Appalachian Trail and popular with visitors as a place to find unique mountain gifts. There is a hostel for a night’s stopover.
Since the trail begins at Springer Mountain, just 30 miles away, this is the first major stop. This is the only place where the trail crosses through the building, so hikers have to pass through it en route to the trail’s end in Maine. A tradition has grown here. Hikers who have hiked the complete trail return and throw their hiking boots over a tree in front.
Vogel State Park
Vogel State Park, Georgia’s second oldest state park, sits at the base of Blood Mountain. Before it became a state park, it was the birthplace of Byron Herbert Reece. His birthplace now lies buried under Lake Trahlyta in Vogel State Park. In the 1930s, the CCC built a dam on Wolf Creek to create the 22-acre lake.
The park is popular for fishing, swimming, canoeing, paddle boarding, and kayaking on the lake, as well as having 108 campsites and 34 cottages. The cottages are an excellent choice for visitors as Blairsville has no hotels and just a few inns, B and Bs, and motels. The cottages range from one to three bedrooms with fully equipped kitchens.
Be sure to see the CCC Museum in the park.
Byron Herbert Reece Farm and Heritage Center
Byron Herbert Reece, often called “the Farmer Poet” was born in Union County. He won two Guggenheim awards. In 1951, they nominated him for a Pulitzer Prize. He wrote four books of poetry and two novels. Many of Reece’s poems deal with the land and planting. His novel, The Hawk and the Sun, published in 1955, dealt with the lynching of an innocent Black man.
For a Southern poet, Reece was ahead of his time. He was a writer-in-residence at Emory University in Atlanta, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Young Harris College in neighboring Towns County, Georgia. Yet, farming paid most of his bills.
After the CCC built Vogel State Park, his family moved to land adjourning the park. The Byron Herbert Reece Farm and Heritage Center’s Visitor’s Center is in the home he build for his mother and father both of which died of tuberculosis when he was a young man.
The center shows what life was like for a farmer in the North Georgia Mountains in early 20th century. You’ll see lots of memorabilia that belonged to Reece and his family. Over the fireplace, there is a large picture of Reece sitting next to his mother with his father standing at the front.
Outside there is a little, red-frame building. This was his writing studio. He built it himself and named it Mulberry Hall. Look in the open door and you will see a realistic mannequin of Reece as he worked in the studio. There are a corncrib, smokehouse, springhouse, chicken house. All the buildings are typical for of that time would have had.
There is a petting farm where you can visit with animals that would have been on a farm. Along the path, there are stone circles with some of his poems engraved on a rugged stone. The barn contains many of Reece’s possessions, including his typewriter and desk. There’s a video of local people who knew him talking about Reece’s life.
Reece was suffering with tuberculosis in 1958. He was then working at Young Harris College. It was here that he took his own life. The Reach of Song, Georgia’s Official Historic Drama is a play about Reece’s life. Its title came from the words of one of Reece’s poems, “From chips and shards, in idle times, I made these stories, shaped these rhymes; May they engage some friendly tongue, When I am past the reach of song.”
The Center hosts concerts on most weekends.
There is a lot more to do here, including several museums, a distillery, winery, and some unique shopping. For dining, be sure to stop in at Hole in the Wall on the square. It’s Union County’s oldest restaurant. Music on Friday nights at the Old Courthouse on the square is a free treat.
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